Friday, September 9, 2016

Genesis - 1971 [2008] "Nursery Cryme" [Remaster]

Nursery Cryme is the third studio album from the English rock band Genesis, released in November 1971 on Charisma Records. The album is the first with drummer Phil Collins and guitarist Steve Hackett in the band's line-up. It was recorded in August 1971 following their 1970–71 tour supporting their previous album, Trespass.
Nursery Cryme was not a commercial success upon its release. It did not enter the UK chart until 1974, when it peaked at number 39. The band toured in the UK and abroad for a year to promote the album, and the tour included a successful Italian leg in April 1972.

Genesis returned to a five-member formation after the addition of guitarist Steve Hackett in January 1971. For a few months prior, the group performed live as a four piece with singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Mike Rutherford, and drummer Phil Collins who had joined in 1970. As a four-man formation, Banks played guitar and keyboard parts which he credits in improving his keyboard technique as it required him to play two keyboards simultaneously. Genesis toured the UK on their Trespass tour before its conclusion in July 1971 so work on the next album could begin. The band wrote and rehearsed at a country home in Crowborough in East Sussex owned by Tony Stratton-Smith.

Nursery Cryme was recorded in August 1971 at Trident Studios in London with John Anthony as producer. The album sleeve, painted by Paul Whitehead who also did the artwork on the previous and next Genesis albums, Trespass and Foxtrot, depicts scenes from "The Musical Box" and Coxhill, the manor house with a croquet lawn, where Gabriel grew up.
"The Musical Box" originated as an instrumental written by former Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips called "F#" which was later re-recorded as "Manipulation" on the Jackson Tapes and released on the box set Genesis 1970–1975. The guitar solo was written by lead guitarist Mick Barnard, who replaced Phillips in 1970 prior to Hackett joining the band. The Genesis tribute band The Musical Box named themselves after the song. "For Absent Friends" is the first Genesis song with Phil Collins as lead vocalist. "The Return of the Giant Hogweed" warns of the spread of the toxic plant Heracleum mantegazzianum after it was "captured" in Russia and brought to England by a Victorian explorer.

If Genesis truly established themselves as progressive rockers on Trespass, Nursery Cryme is where their signature persona was unveiled: true English eccentrics, one part Lewis Carroll and one part Syd Barrett, creating a fanciful world that emphasized the band's instrumental prowess as much as Peter Gabriel's theatricality. Which isn't to say that all of Nursery Cryme works. There are times when the whimsy is overwhelming, just as there are periods when there's too much instrumental indulgence, yet there's a charm to this indulgence, since the group is letting itself run wild. Even if they've yet to find the furthest reaches of their imagination, part of the charm is hearing them test out its limits, something that does result in genuine masterpieces, as on "The Musical Box" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed," two epics that dominate the first side of the album and give it its foundation. If the second side isn't quite as compelling or quite as structured, it doesn't quite matter because these are the songs that showed what Genesis could do, and they still stand as pinnacles of what the band could achieve. 

Released in 1971, this is the first album with the "classic" Genesis lineup and the first to feature the distinctive ensemble sound that would characterize their work up to late 1976.

What is particularly noticeable about some of the longer pieces on this album including "The Musical Box" and "Return of the Giant Hogweed" is an aggressive and harsh sound that is largely reflected in Steve Hackett's guitar work. Although I do not know this for certain, I suspect that this heaviness may have resulted from exposure to the music of fellow Charisma label band Van der graaf Generator while on "package" tours in Britain.

One other new element that helped shape the classic Genesis sound was the addition of superb drummer Phil Collins, who brought a superior level of musicianship to the band that the previous drummer (John Mayhew) was not able to. As such, the use of unusual time signatures increased and the ensemble work became a bit more sophisticated over that found on Trespass (1970). Other interesting developments include the use of the mellotron by keyboardist Tony Banks, an instrument which is featured prominently on "Seven Stones" and the excellent "The Fountain of Salmacis", a piece that Tony wrote while studying physics at Sussex University. Quieter pieces on the album include "For Absent Friends" (which features Phil Collins on vocals) and "Harlequin", while "Harold the Barrel" is somewhere in the middle.

Interestingly enough, Tony Banks has been quoted as saying he did not feel that Nursery Cryme was much of an improvement over Trespass (1970). Although this may only hold partially true musically, conceptually and lyrically this is a completely different story. With regard to the lyrics, the cosmic and surreal imagery that would dominate the Peter Gabriel years was first expressed on Nursery Cryme. For example, "Return of the Giant Hogweed" describes (in anthropomorphic terms) how the invasive wetland plant species Heracleum mantegazziani (giant hogweed) threatens to take over the countryside. As a biologist, the thought of an invasive plant (that grows to 15-20 feet in height) shouting, "Human bodies soon will know our anger. Kill them with your Hogweed hairs!" tickled me pink.

Other bizarre imagery includes a young boy that ages suddenly, dies, and his spirit then takes up residence in a musical box belonging to his playmate. Consumed by a "lifetimes worth of desires", the spirit of "young Henry" lunges at the girl, only to have the nanny rush into the room and destroy the musical box, thus killing poor Henry.

All in all, this is a great album that initiates a four-year period where Genesis was at a creative and artistic peak. Although the production quality is somewhat muddy, and it does not possess the polish and sophistication of "Selling England by the Pound" (1973), this is still an excellent album and is recommended.

Nursery Cryme came at perhaps the most interesting time in the band's career. They had just picked up much needed muscle with Hackett and Collins, but were still trying to find their voice as a band. The result is some of the oddest, most original music they have ever composed, played at a new level of competency. For me the most fascinating progressive rock can be the strangest, and--make no mistake--Nursery Cryme is Genesis at their strangest. Here they move away from the folky tendencies of the albums that preceeded it, but are not yet producing music as streamlined and professional as that which would soon come. This is one of the most unique albums in prog rock history.
One of the best things about this album is that the ego jostling has yet to set in. Steve Hackett plays a large role and Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford sing background prominently in some places. Banks even delivers the "Mighty Hogweed" line in "Return of the Giant Hogweed," which is, by the way, a good example of a song with the bizarreness I alluded to earlier.
There are others. "Harold the Barrel" is a off-center but moving mini-opera that takes place in about three minutes, and "Seven Stones" reveals the influence that the first King Crimson album must have had on the band, especially Hackett's guitar solo in the middle and the Mellotronic thunder at the end. Kind of a creepy song in its own way. And speaking of creepy, while "The Musical Box" is an acknowledged epic masterpiece, its theme of a reincarnated (...)fixated villain is so disturbingly obscure that they had to explain the story on the liner notes of the remastered CD (whose sound IS much better than the original vinyl pressing).
The oddness of the music of this record is certainly reflected in the band's colorful stage persona at the time, all infused with a wonderful sense of artistic discovery. We know the three albums to come are the five star classics, but there is something singularly exciting about this record that you won't find anywhere else.

Tracks Listing

1. The Musical Box (10:24)
2. For Absent Friends (1:44)
3. The Return of the Giant Hogweed (8:10)
4. Seven Stones (5:10)
5. Harold the Barrel (2:55)
6. Harlequin (2:52)
7. The Fountain of Salmacis (7:54)

Total Time: 42:35

Line-up / Musicians

- Tony Banks / organ, mellotron, piano, electric piano, 12 string guitar, voices
- Phil Collins / drums, voices, percussion, lead vocals(2)
- Peter Gabriel / lead voice, flute, tambourine, bass drum
- Steve Hackett / electric and 12 string guitar
- Mike Rutherford / bass guitar, bass pedals, 12 string guitar, backing vocals

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